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Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs is considered to be a syndrome rather than an actual disease. It’s characterized by chronic inflammation and irritation of the intestinal tract, causing persistent diarrhea in dogs. Dogs affected with IBD will also have intermittent vomiting and poor appetite. This often results in weight loss in untreated cases. Continue reading to learn more about IBD in dogs, including common causes, diagnostic tests, and treatment options.

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What happens when a dog has IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs happens when inflammatory cells invade the lining of the intestinal tract, causing an inflammatory reaction similar to an allergic-type response. This inflammation causes damage to the intestine and allows leakage of protein and water into the intestinal lumen. This response compromises the absorption of nutrients and results in diarrhea in affected dogs.

The inflammatory cells will then send signals, called cytokines, that stimulate further migration of more inflammatory cells to the intestinal lining causing further damage and persistent inflammation. As the condition becomes chronic and persistent, the damage along the mucosal surface causes hemorrhage leading to bloody diarrhea, which is often seen in most cases of IBD.

What causes inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is still poorly understood and a definite cause has not been established yet. Most studies have shown that while the cause is still unclear, several different factors can contribute to the development of IBD in dogs. It is believed that rather than a disease, IBD is the body’s response against certain allergens or underlying conditions.

IBD in dogs is often linked to genetics and some breeds are more predisposed to developing the condition. Breeds like Rottweilers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, English Bulldogs, and Boxers are especially susceptible to developing IBD. Genetically linked immune-mediated conditions can also predispose a dog to IBD.

Another common trigger that most veterinarians cite as a possible cause of IBD in dogs is a food allergy. A food allergy happens when antigens in a food ingredient trigger an immune response, causing inflammation in different systems of the dog’s body. Most food allergy cases manifest as skin problems but some result in gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. Continuous inflammation along the intestinal lining due to food allergy can eventually develop into IBD in dogs.

Intestinal infections and parasites are also possible triggers of IBD in dogs. Bacterial infections and intestinal parasites cause inflammation of the intestine and may lead to overstimulation of the immune system and the eventual development of inflammatory disease.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Dogs affected with IBD will have chronic diarrhea that is occasionally bloody and mucousy. There will be occasional vomiting and weight loss in chronic cases.

Most dogs with mild IBD don’t show any signs of weakness and are often active despite gastrointestinal problems.

A gradual decrease in appetite may be observed as the gastrointestinal signs become worse.

How is IBD diagnosed in dogs?

Inflammatory bowel disease will often require a series of tests to be diagnosed. Since its presentation is strikingly similar to most gastrointestinal problems and is often triggered by different gastrointestinal conditions, ruling out common causes of diarrhea is key to arriving at a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis frequently involves a fecal analysis, blood work, and ultrasound to check for other causes of diarrhea. The fecal analysis will help rule out infectious causes of diarrhea, while an ultrasound scan can help visualize the intestines and identify inflammation or other abnormal structures.

A comprehensive blood exam helps reveal any systemic infections or give indications of inflammatory processes. It will also help identify complications associated with chronic diarrhea and IBD.

Definitive diagnosis will come from intestinal biopsies. Getting a tissue sample of the intestinal lining is an accurate way to check for inflammatory changes along the intestinal tract. This is usually done under sedation or anesthesia using a special instrument called an endoscope. An endoscopy procedure is a diagnostic tool used to visualize intestinal mucosa in real-time and allows for obtaining tissue samples necessary to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

How is inflammatory bowel disease treated in dogs?

Since IBD in dogs is often multi-faceted, treatment approaches are usually multi-modal and will involve various treatment and management protocols. The goal of treatment is to control the inflammation along the intestinal tract.

Most cases will require anti-inflammatory medications and supplements that help control inflammation. NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like meloxicam or carprofen are sometimes sufficient to control inflammation in dogs suffering from IBD, but in most cases, treatment with systemic corticosteroids like prednisone is needed.

Since IBD in dogs is often persistent and recurrent, long-term therapy is often necessary to successfully control clinical signs. Supplements like omega fatty acids and beta-glucan concentrates help further control inflammation of the intestine and manage the condition.

Though the link between diet and inflammatory bowel disease is not fully established, changing the dog’s diet to a hypoallergenic or novel protein diet can help control inflammation and manage clinical signs.

Cases of IBD in dogs with a concurrent infection will need anti-infectives as part of the treatment. The antibiotic of choice in some IBD cases in dogs is metronidazole. It is an effective antibacterial and antiprotozoal medicine that helps control bacterial and protozoal parasites and it has anti-inflammatory properties that control any inflammatory processes happening along the intestinal lining.

Supplementation of probiotics has been reported to help control the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria and manage inflammation. Beneficial bacteria in probiotic supplements also produce lactic and acetic acid that further helps control inflammation and protects the intestine from bacterial infection.

Read more:

Everything You Need to Know About Diarrhea in Dogs

Protein-Losing Enteropathy in Dogs

Choosing the Right Prescription Diet for Your Dog

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